WASHINGTON — The World Health Organization’s director on Monday disputed reports it delayed the global response to the coronavirus, saying the US was kept in the loop “from day one.”
In a conference call with reporters, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts from the US were working full-time at the WHO headquarters in Geneva when reports of the virus first emerged in December.
“Having CDC staff means there’s nothing hidden from the US from day one,” Tedros said, adding Americans were working with them when the COVID-19 virus took hold in Wuhan, China.
“With WHO, it’s open. We don’t hide anything,” he added, defending the United Nations agency that is facing a wave of criticism over its handling of the pandemic.
Tedros was responding to a Washington Post report published Sunday that claimed Americans working at WHO’s Geneva headquarters transmitted real-time information about coronavirus to the Trump administration.
A Health and Human Services spokeswoman confirmed 17 staff, including 16 from the CDC, were stationed at WHO in January, but said the health organization deliberately stalled and failed to investigate China in a timely manner.
“We have learned now that WHO information was incorrect and relied too heavily on China,” Caitlin B. Oakley told the Washington Post, saying those CDC staff were not “decision makers.”
Oakley also said the “lack of transparency aided and abetted by WHO leadership hampered understanding of the virus and delayed the global response.”
The Trump administration has frozen United States funding for the agency for 90 days.
But Tedros dismissed this and said the WHO kept no secrets, including from the dozen CDC staff stationed in Geneva.
“Since CDC know we give information to people immediately, they know they can pass off [to governmental agencies in the US],” he said.
“We don’t have secrets. As soon as we get information, we pass it because we want to save lives even if it is one life,” he continued.
Tedros and the WHO have been criticized for not ensuring that China reported accurate numbers following the initial case in the city of Wuhan in December, hindering other nations’ response to the pandemic.
Trump said Tuesday he would halt funding to the agency until a review is conducted of whether the WHO mismanaged or covered up the spread of the coronavirus.
A report said Wednesday the Communist Chinese government waited six days before warning its people that the outbreak in Wuhan was likely a pandemic, allowing thousands more to become infected.
President Xi Jinping warned the public on Jan. 20 — nearly a week after Chinese officials had privately determined on Jan. 14 that the virus had evolved into a pandemic.
With Mark Moore